The Rules of Writing Practice

10 Feb

For the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting down and writing whatever comes to mind. I call this writing practice, after the timed writing technique from Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones.  It’s something I’ve done on and off for years.  As she says, “Writing [is] an athletic activity: the more you practice, the better you get at it.”

But how do you practice writing? Part of the problem with writing a specific project, whether a screenplay or an essay, is that I spend a lot of time not writing. Instead, I sit there, staring at a blank screen fretting about what to write and where to start.  Or worse, I write something and hate it, rewrite it, hate it some more, and generally think nasty thoughts about how my writing isn’t worth flushing down the toilet.  Or worst, I write something decent, but decide it isn’t literary enough, rewrite it until it’s pompous, lifeless, and forced, and then feel a sense of accomplishment. None of these things is good for me or my writing and makes me miserable company at dinner parties.

This is where writing practice comes in. It serves as warm-up, touchstone, and a reminder of why I started writing in the first place: the joy of self-expression and creation. There is something freeing about just writing. I incorporate writing practice into my daily writing efforts.

So what is writing practice? It’s picking up a pen and writing (or computer and typing) usually for a set time. (NG says start with ten minutes. I’m working towards finding an ideal segment and currently write in 15-minute chunks.) Goldberg also suggests some rules to make sure you keep writing.

The Rules

1)   Keep your hand moving

2)   Lose control

3)   Be specific

4)   Don’t think

5)   Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling

6)   You are free to write the worst trash in the world

7)   Go for the jugular

The rules may seem off-putting to some. And they may seem to contradict the idea of writing freely. But they provide a structure—a very basic, open one—to help you focus on creating (rather than editing) and writing down what comes to you (rather than censoring or editing yourself.)

If you haven’t done this, I highly recommend giving it a try. Even (or especially) if you’re not a writer. Outside of the benefits for your writing, it’s like exercise in another way: you often feel better for having done it.


3 Responses to “The Rules of Writing Practice”

  1. Adam February 14, 2010 at 16:51 #

    What you’ve described sounds like a mini-nano. I really like the juxtaposition of points two and three. These are all good reminders for me, and I appreciate you doing the legwork so I can do the eyework.


  2. SW February 24, 2010 at 01:12 #

    This is concise but still emotive. You’re speaking from a place of experience, not from atop your own pedestal. Reminds me of your Zen in the Art of (Improv) Archery. It’s something I think you might consider: you said that academia might be a way to allow yourself to grow. It’s a long-time goal of mine, so I would of course advocate it. And your father has surely ingrained in you a knowledge (of teaching). You’re good at sharing your discoveries with others–what better way to perpetuate your own creativity and story-telling? Just a thought.


  1. Writing Mindfully or Writing Entranced? « Word Games - May 13, 2010

    […] 13 May I do an hour of writing practice each here, following these guidelines. […]

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